Home Christian News Does Religion Make People More Likely to Welcome Refugees? It’s Complicated.

Does Religion Make People More Likely to Welcome Refugees? It’s Complicated.

A new study investigates how religion shapes Europeans’ attitudes toward migrants.

Vaughan also found that religious minorities were more open to receiving refugees in their countries than other religious groups and the unaffiliated. Since Muslims comprise a large share of Europe’s most recent refugees, they could be more prone to empathize with fellow newcomers, Vaughan said.

Europeans were more likely to support generous refugee policies in regions where a higher proportion of the population is Protestant or Catholic. This appeared to be true regardless of what their own religion is or whether they identified with a religious tradition at all.

As a sociologist and a Christian, Vaughan told Religion News Service that the results he uncovered were “encouraging and humbling.”

“It tells me that our religious traditions do provide us with something worth celebrating and something that offers practical help to the needy coming to our shores. On the other hand, it also tells us that there are myriad avenues for our less and non-religious peers to be a part of this, too,” he said. “And the risks of falling into dangerous patterns of nativism are equally real for religious populations and secular populations alike.”

Vaughan cautioned that, while the data provided a snapshot of Europeans’ attitudes in 2016, national and regional conversations and ideas about refugees and other topics can change rapidly.

“While I see very clear and strong effects coming from religiosity here, I would not want to lean into universalizing statements about one group being more amenable to refugees than others,” he said.

Other researchers have proposed different ways of measuring religiosity’s effects on attitudes toward migrants.

Verena Benoit, a lecturer at Germany’s Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, suggested that religiosity should be evaluated alongside other factors, such as people’s attachment to values like altruism and benevolence on the one hand, or tradition, power and security on the other. She also wants to know whether respondents express feeling threatened by immigrants, realistically or symbolically.

In an analysis of ESS data published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion in May, Benoit found that respondents’ concerns about the threat that immigrants posed had a much stronger direct effect on their attitudes, followed by their values. Religiosity actually had the weakest direct effect. (Benoit explicitly focused her study on immigrants, not refugees.)

Benoit, who leaned on self-reported levels of religiosity for her study, said that these patterns held firm even when she re-evaluated the data using respondents’ frequency of service attendance and frequency of prayer.

Vaughan said that in nations with high levels of Catholic religiosity, where national and regional leaders are actively communicating Francis’ message to Catholic laity, the pope’s trip to Lesbos could re-energize activism around refugees. But this is not guaranteed, he said, pointing to Poland, a country with a significant Catholic population where anti-migrant rhetoric is becoming increasingly popular.

“Pope Francis inspiring compassion toward migrants among the Polish Catholic laity constitutes a major political risk for certain politicians,” he said. “I would not expect Francis’ messages to be unmatched there.”

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kuruvilla@outreach.com'
Carol Kuruvilla is a journalist with Religion News Service